This rigorous literature review focused on early childhood development
and cognitive development in developing countries. It aimed to: (i)
review existing evidence on the review topic to inform programme design
and policy making undertaken by the DFID, other agencies and
researchers; and (ii) identify critical evidence gaps to guide the
development of future research programmes.
Relevant keywords (early childhood development and cognitive
development) were used to search for evidence in nine electronic
databases, reference lists of journals, and specialist websites. Only
studies published after 1992 were considered. Following a rigorous
screening procedure, 111 studies conducted in 40 developing countries
were selected for inclusion and findings from 70 of these 111 studies
were statistically combined using meta-analyses. In addition, narrative
summaries of 14 were prepared to help identify key messages from
The review found:
1. A large, high-quality body of evidence, derived from 40 developing
countries shows that ECD interventions focusing on (i) parental support;
(ii) early stimulation and education; (iii) nutrition and health; (iv)
income supplementation; and (v) comprehensive and integrated programmes
have positive effects on children’s cognitive development.
2. The largest effects are associated with comprehensive programmes.
3. Parent-focused interventions are most effective when both the child
and parent are involved.
4. Using well-qualified early childhood educators and community health
workers led to better cognitive outcomes for children across programmes.
- Invest in comprehensive large-scale programmes and in well-designed
and properly implemented parent-focused or child-focused
- Invest in quality by allocating resources for training change agents
(be they parents, teachers or health workers), and age- and
- The review did not identify sufficient evidence to draw firm
conclusions about (i) the minimum amount of intervention needed to
achieve sustainable gains in cognitive development; and (ii) the best
ways in which to support and involve parents, extended-family members
and communities in promoting early learning.
Rao, N.; Sun, J.; Wong, J.M.S.; Weekes, B.; Ip, P.; Shaeffer, S.; Young, M.; Bray, M.; Chen, E.; Lee, D. Early childhood development and cognitive development in developing countries: A rigorous literature review. DFID, London, UK (2014) iii + 95 pp.